New Employee Latest In Unrest Surrounding Burien Animal Control
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in an ongoing series on animal control in Burien. Upcoming articles will tell how King County operates their shelter and control system and another will be on the views of animal lovers who disagree with the CARES model. Editor and reporter Jack Mayne can be reached at 206.274.6069 or at [email protected].
by Jack Mayne
The business of animal control in Burien has been roiling for the past several months, first over the city eschewing King County Animal Control because of cost, then over the new non-profit chosen to take over animal control responsibilities.
On Monday (Jan. 9) Debra George, director of the city’s new non-profit contract animal agency, CARES, said the former full-time animal control officer, Mike Snyder, was gone.
“We let him go,” on Monday. George said she would have no comment on the circumstances of Snyder’s departure.
“Ray Helms is our new animal control officer,” she said. “He has been trained at the National Animal Control Association (NACA). He has a great love for animals and serving the Burien Community. He brings also great organization and communication skills. We are excited for him to be part of our team.”
George said Helms went to Kansas City for his training, the same training his predecessor had.
Leaving King County
Meanwhile, there have been repeated public demands that Burien immediately go back to service from King County. Because of a contract with various cities around the county, it would be impossible for the city to return to county animal control until at least 2013. The county cannot open the current contract until it has expired.
Additionally there is a contract with CARES and George that does not expire for 28 months – April 2014.
The city terminated its contract with King County in 2010 because the county charged $250,000 a year for its service that promised one day a week service, availability of its animal shelter in Kent and emergency service when necessary. We will look more deeply into their services now and possibly in the future in another story soon.
First, Burien contracted with the operator of a Normandy Park veterinarian, Dr. Leslie Kasper but she left in January 2011 over disputes with the city.
City Manager Mike Martin said the city then put out a request for proposals and George was the only respondent.
The contract with the newly formed Community Animal Resource Education Society (CARES), headed by George, took control of Burien animal care and control services last June 15. CARES will be paid $10,000 a month under its contract with the city – a total of $360,000 through the end of the contract in April of 2014.
She formed CARES as a non-profit 501 c(3) corporation “to encourage responsible pet ownership and enforce the animal laws and ordinances in order to protect the health, safety and welfare of people and animals in Burien.”
Martin said that would save the city “$10,000 to $13,000 a month over the county’s charge would have been.
“There was definitely the issue of cost and there was the issue of performance that we didn’t feel we were getting a product that we were paying for (with King County),” Martin said in an interview. “There was also the attractiveness of taking something that was in the public sector and putting it in the private sector. That was very attractive to me – taking $120,000 out of the public sector and putting into the private sector.”
George a “total volunteer”
“I don’t get paid, I’m a volunteer,” she said in a recent personal interview. “For years, I’d talked about starting a non-profit and because of my love for animals I could really get behind this particular opportunity.”
She says she does believe in the CARES program and the process.
“I am very passionate about animals and animal welfare. Some people think I am not, which is interesting to me.”
She said she researched other groups that did non-profit animal control and care.
“It is fairly new as a structure, but seems to be working. I really thought that this could work in our community and (would give) us better services than King County and ultimately serve our community.”
But is $10,000 a month enough?
“It is, right now,” George says. “This program gives better service. We have a fulltime animal control officer who does nothing but work on Burien. We have a fulltime office manager who does nothing but work on Burien and getting animals adopted out and taking care of the animals.
“On top of all that, we really do supply a good service,” she says. “We work within our budget, but like every non-profit we will be assertive in our fundraising efforts. We are coming out with out 2012 calendar of events to raise money for our organization.”
The city contract money pays for a full-time animal control officer and an office manager, plus the rent of the interim office and cat holding space in the back alley at 145 SW 153rd Street.
The money also paid for new animal control officer Ray Helms to train at the National Animal Control Association.
Everything else has to be paid for with animal adoption fees, donations and fund raising events or seeking grants, she says.
She pays for some things herself.
“People don’t realize how much money comes from my personal pocket,” George says. She said she personally paid for most of the start-ups cost of insurance and supplies for CARES, which had to be in place before the contract with the city had been signed. She said she has been reimbursed for half of her cost with the rest is still owed to her.
“Expenses like cat litter and things like that usually come out of my personal pocket,” George says.
Dogs are temporarily housed at PJ’s Pet Ranch in SeaTac owned by P.J. Seidenstricker. George says CARES houses only a few cats and kittens in the 153rd Street alley location.
CARES “took a lot of blows in the beginning” of because it did not take in cats right away because it was feeling its way on setting up a system,” she said.
“We try to keep the cats at a manageable number so that we don’t get overwhelmed.”
She says the CARES’ policy in not to euthanize an animal unless it is necessary for medical or behavior reasons.
“Any (animal) that is healthy and adoptable” will be kept until it is adopted or transferred out, George says. “Out of the 264 animals we have taken in during the first 6 months we had to euthanize a 29 – 11 from a dog hoarding situation – due to illness or aggression. It is a case-by-case basis.”
She says local veterinarians do all euthanizing so they have to agree that it is the appropriate way to deal with an animal. It is decision by her, the animal control officer, and a vet and they all must agree to it.
“We use experts who know animals,” George said. “We use South Seattle Veterinary Hospital and we use Burien Veterinary Hospital to examine and take care of everything for animals left in our shelter. Before it goes any place, it goes to a local vet where it is looked over and evaluated and it is given shots. They have to have shots before they are sent into any general population. We have to know what we are dealing with.”
CARES pays for this and for spaying and neutering from the monthly contractual fee paid by the city.
Thirty-eight small dogs were found in cages in a Burien basement in October and 11 had to be euthanized due to the conditions that been held under. The rest remain in foster care, she says. There were “significant unanticipated costs” for boarding the dogs and for veterinary expenses in that case. We reached out and received grants and donations to cover expenses.
CARES continues to work with a cat-hoarding situation from September. “We try to be as sympathetic as possible,” she says. “We have to abide by the laws of Burien – that is what we are here to enforce. So we can’t just go in there and take all the cats without proper documentation, without proper warrants or getting the owner to surrender. ”
George said CARES has a “really good” dialogue with the homeowner who was releasing some of the cats to them on a week-by-week basis and they are still working to have her release more animals this is an on going active case and we will continue to monitor the situation even after the cats are down to a manageable level.
George says that the previous board of directors had two volunteers who did not agree with how things would be done in her organization.
“We didn’t see eye-to-eye on everything. They are great people, they have been friends of mine,” she says. “Currently we don’t talk but I hope over time we will mend that fence. I think we have the same goals in mind. The process we are on to get to that goal is a little bit different process than they’d like to see. I know they are very big animal advocates.
“I don’t think we ran them out” as some claim. “We asked them to step back a bit and take a break.”
Public criticism hurt
“When I took this challenging role of animal controller, running CARES, I knew it was going to be tough,” she says but following a B-Town Blog story and photos on Nov. 16 about CARES’ new proposed new shelter there was a deluge of comments.
Of 105 comments, many were bordering on the hysterical and often showing extreme anger. George says the tone of the comments got to her – “even my thick skin can get penetrated.”
“I stopped reading the blog, and I asked a new board member to monitor (the comments) and after a day they couldn’t even take it. It is disheartening,” she says.
“We are trying to do a really good thing for this community,” she said. “We are handling the animals with as much dignity and respect as we can possibly give them, no different than King County – just as good services and in some cases better. And, yet it is hard for the community to see that and they kind of want to hang their hat on negativity and not take the time to really see what we are doing.”
“We are open five days a week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.,” George says, so people can come by and see how the operation runs. We make sure to monitor our phones 7 days a week.
“Anyone can walk in any time and see our cats in our office. With our dogs we have to respect P.J.’s because it is not an open facility where you can just come as you want. We call ahead and we make arrangements for people to see that location. Keep in mind that P.J.s is a kenneling facility that you would take your dog to when you go in vacation.”
Both the CARES cat facility and the dog quarters at P.J.’s are regulated by the Seattle King County Health Department.
“We continue as an organization to grow. We are a young organization – we are not going to open up on day one and have every luxury in the book. It would have been nice to have our own facility when we opened up, but Burien did not and we are making it work with what we have.”
Regarding the newly rented 7,500 square foot building at 909 151st, George says the city has our plans for permits and we should get them back this week. All money for our shelter will come from donations and volunteers. Once done the shelter will house all our dogs and cats for adoption under one roof. We will also have a holding area, exam room and retail.
George says the city zoning laws permit the facility just a half block from Olde Burien. She says they hope to start the building work soon and to open it in February.